Jersey's changing coastline

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On the coast
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Land reclamation around Jersey's coastline


The shape of the island of Jersey has changed significantly over the centuries as successive reclamation schemes have extended the coastline. Although this process has been most evident in and around the area which is now St Helier Harbour, land has been reclaimed at Gorey, in the north-east, Samares in the south-east, St Aubin, and along several stretches of coast where the construction of seawalls created a division between beach and sand dunes

G17Map1778.jpg

A map of Jersey produced by a Mr Tibbles, in about 1778, shows that Jersey's coastline was more ragged, particularly on either side of St Helier's Mont de la Ville before seawalls were built and land reclaimed behind


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The shape of the island of Jersey has changed significantly over the centuries as successive reclamation schemes have extended the coastline.

Although this process has been most evident in and around the area which is now St Helier Harbour, land has been reclaimed at Gorey, in the north-east, Samares in the south-east, St Aubin, and along several stretches of coast where the construction of seawalls has created a division between beach and sand dunes, and allowed the landward side to be infilled to create acres (or, more properly in the island context, vergees) of new flat land.

Pre-history

But much earlier in history it was changes in sea levels which had the most dramatic impact on the island's coastline.

The size of the island of Jersey varied dramatically in prehistoric times, and at some stages it was not an island at all, but a hilly area linked to the Cotentin Peninsular of Normandy by a flat plain. At other times the sea was much higher and very little of the island was exposed above sea level. Geologists differ in their opinions as to when these variations occurred, but although it has generally been accepted that the sea surrounded Jersey several thousand years ago, suggestions have been put forward more recently that this did not happen until much later, possibly little more than a millennium past.

St Clement's dicq

A large expanse of what is now part of the parish of St Clement was reclaimed from the sea with the construction of a dyke, or ‘’dicq’’, just around the corner from Havre des Pas. Early maps of the island all show a substantial inlet towards Samares Manor, which was surrounded by marshy land which flooded at high tide. It is well documented that the Seigneur was forced to travel part of the way by boat when he ventured into St Helier for sittings of the Royal Court.

History is vague on when, exactly, the Dicq was constructed, but it appears that it was intended to undo the damage wrought by earlier storms, rather than create a new expanse of land. Large floods in 1688, 1796 and 1812 had apparently led to the coast road at Le Hocq being swept away by the sea and necessitated the coast road being rebuilt further inland.

A study of maps of the 19th century suggest that the work was undertaken between 1775 and 1785. The accuracy of some of these maps is questionable, many seemingly copied from earlier versions, but successive maps produced by Herman Moll in the 1730s, Thomas Osborne in 1748, the Cassini family in the 1750s, Francis Grose in 1772 and Tibbles in 1775 show a substantial inlet between the St Clement Coast and Samares Manor, whereas on a map produced in 1785 by an unknown Army officer, the inlet has disappeared and the coast is largely straight from Havre des Pas east.

The town of St Helier expands

Reclamation started in a big way in the earliest years of the 19th century as the sandy expanse beyond Broad Street, the Town Church and the properties which then had frontages on Pier Road, was reclaimed to create the flat area now known as the Weighbridge.

St Aubin's Bay

Reclamation was largely driven later in the 19th century by the need to allow roads and railway tracks to be constructed in St Aubin’s Bay on the south coast and at Gorey; and by the need to create a harbour on St Helier’s coastline.

North coast harbours

Railway extension at Gorey

Land reclamation at La Collette

West of Albert

This map of the St Helier seafront shows the Royal Square with the Town Church below. The tide line is shown level with what is now the bottom of Mulcaster Street. It is often claimed that the sea reached the churchyard wall on high tides, and that small vessels would be tied to iron rings in the wall. This suggestion is not supported by this map, which shows a few buildings to the seaward side of the church and a tide line some metres distant. It is believed more likely that the iron rings were used to tether cattle brought to town for the market, which was held nearby. Even today's highest tides only just wash over the wall at the top of the New North Quay and Albert Harbour, and the church walls are slightly above this level. It is possible that there was a gulley running alongside the south wall of the churchyard, which would flood on high tides and allow small vessels to reach the wall, but it is not shown on any maps.

Reclamation started in a big way in the earliest years of the 19th century as the sandy expanse beyond Broad Street, the Town Church and the properties which then had frontages on Pier Road, was reclaimed to create the flat area now known as the Weighbridge.


caption

File:Weighbridge1860.jpg

The Dicq, photographed by Victor Hugo or his son in 1853. The structure stopped the sea encroaching on low-lying land in St Clement before more substantial sea walls were built

It was even earlier that a large expanse of what is now part of the parish of St Clement was reclaimed from the sea with the construction of a dyke, or dicq, just around the corner from Havre des Pas. Early maps of the island all show a substantial inlet towards Samares Manor, which was surrounded by marshy land which flooded at high tide. It is well documented that the Seigneur was forced to travel part of the way by boat when he ventured into St Helier for sittings of the Royal Court.

History is vague on when, exactly, the Dicq was constructed, but it appears that it was intended to undo the damage wrought by earlier storms, rather than create a new expanse of land. One report we have found suggests that large floods in 1688, 1796 and 1812 led to the coast road at Le Hocq being swept away by the sea and necessitated the coast road being rebuilt further inland.

However, a study of maps of the 19th century suggest that the work was undertaken between 1775 and 1785. The accuracy of some of these maps is questionable, many seemingly copied from earlier versions, but successive maps produced by Herman Moll in the 1730s, Thomas Osborne in 1748, the Cassini family in the 1750s, Francis Grose in 1772 and Tibbles in 1775, show a substantial inlet between the St Clement Coast and Samares Manor, whereas on a map produced in 1785 by an unknown Army officer, the inlet has disappeared and the coast is largely straight from Havre des Pas east. The Dicq was a fairly basic structure, with a rock bank held in place by tree trunks, as evidenced by the first available photograph, taken either by French refugee Victor Hugo, or his son Charles, in 1853.

Gorey images for land reclamation article

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